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Mediawatch: A troubling week for council pen pushers

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The deaths of two people left councils with much to answer for this week, so the popular press and its readers would lead us to believe.

It was predictable that the Daily Express was appalled by the death of a “93-year-old grandmother [who] ‘died of shame’ when council chiefs billed her £50,000 for a new roof that was not even needed”.

The paper reported leaseholder Florence Bourne had an “‘old-school morality’ which disapproved of being in debt” and “lost weight as the stress took its toll” after Newham LBC sent her the bill.

“Her family say she had a heart attack after being startled by the sound of falling roof tiles as she stepped on to her balcony for fresh air,” the paper reported.

A leasehold valuation tribunal subsequently “found that Labour run Newham” had merely “guesstimated” the roof needed replacing when it had another 40 years’ life left in it, the paper reported.

An Express editorial observed: “This appears to be a petty, pointless and shameful act from a blundering bunch of bureaucrats who cannot see further than the pens they push.”

It was perhaps more surprising that the Daily Mail was equally moved by the death of a council tax non-payer. The paper’s sympathy remained intact despite the man’s lawyer previously claiming Central Bedfordshire Council had breached his right to life under the European Convention of Human Rights by pursuing the arrears.

“Council accused of hounding Dragons’ Den inventor to his death by relatives after it made him bankrupt and sent in bailiffs over unpaid tax,” said the paper’s lengthy headline.

An inquest was told hand dryer inventor Peter Williams threw himself under a train after he “had been made bankrupt by his local council, which had been pursuing him for tax arrears since the mid-1990s”. Mr Williams - described as “vulnerable” by his family’s lawyer - died on the day he was due to be evicted from his home.

The fact that the inquest had not yet reached a verdict did not prevent one Mail reader from concluding: “Council pen pushers have a lot to answer for.”

Another reader added: “I wonder if celebrities and politicians are hounded in the same way.”

The evidence on the rest of the Mail’s website appeared to indicate they can be.

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